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Wax On, Wax Off...

by Diane Flynn Keith

Universal Preschool: What’s Behind the Claims That It Will Stop Crime, Secure Your Child’s Future, Save Social Security & Provide A Free Government Nanny!

[Although my husband, Cliff, and I homeschooled our two sons, this is not specifically a homeschool issue. It affects every young child in the country. We should all care enough to examine the research and claims made in support of government-funded and -mandated Universal Preschool before we allow it to take hold. With that in mind, I am launching a website, www.UniversalPreschool.com and have developed an e-group called Universal Preschool at Yahoo groups. Please see more detailed information at the end of this article. -- Diane Flynn Keith]

If you live in California then you’ve probably seen the ads on TV. Two police officers are riding in a patrol car discussing crime. They park the car, get out, look into the camera and say, “You want to stop crime? Send your kids to preschool.”

This is one in a chain of propaganda links that have been unleashed on Californians through all media venues courtesy of California First Five (www.ccfc.ca.gov). All of the ads preach the same gospel: If your child goes to preschool, they will do better in kindergarten and elementary school, graduate from high school, attend college, get good jobs, earn more money, and will be less likely to do drugs and commit crimes than kids who don’t go to preschool. California First Five is a tobacco tax funded front for the California School Board supported “Children & Families Act of 1998.” Their mission statement is as follows:

“Current research in brain development clearly indicates that the emotional, physical and intellectual environment that a child is exposed to in the early years of life has a profound impact on how the brain is organized. The experiences a child has with respect to parents and caregivers significantly influence how a child will function in school and later in life. The California Children and Families Act of 1998 is designed to provide, on a community-by-community basis, all children prenatal to five years of age with a comprehensive, integrated system of early childhood development services. Through the integration of health care, quality childcare, parent education and effective intervention programs for families at risk, children and their parents and caregivers will be provided with the tools necessary to foster secure, healthy and loving attachments. These attachments will lay the emotional, physical and intellectual foundation for every child to enter school ready to learn and develop the potential to become productive, well-adjusted members of society.”

I find the use of the word “attachments” puzzling, since separating young children from their parents at an early age hardly fosters attachment to mom and dad. Attachment and dependency on the state as nanny, seems more likely. In fact, you can bet on it. 
The California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jack O’Connell, recently proclaimed that providing “Universal Preschool” is a priority for his administration in 2005. An Associated Press article dated December 2004 published in the Palm Springs’ Desert Sun said that while O’Connell expects an austere budget, he hopes the Legislature will approve a bill providing preschool to all 4-year-olds. “Universal preschool is an idea whose time has come,” he said, and promised that if the Legislature doesn’t act, he is discussing a potential universal preschool initiative campaign with Rob Reiner, the actor-turned-director who created the role of the “Meathead” on television’s All In The Family. Reiner is also the founder and chairman of the board of Parents Action for Children (http://www.parentsaction.org). He led the successful Proposition 10 campaign in 1998 to raise cigarette taxes to pay for early childhood education programs – the results of which include the endless commercials by California First Five. Parents’ Action for Children believes that all parents, no matter where they reside or how much money they earn, should be able to enroll their children in government universal preschool programs. Because current federal and state preschool policies have not kept up with that goal, Parents’ Action was active in petitioning President Bush and Senator Kerry to commit to making universal preschool available for all children. 
O’Connell and Reiner aren’t the only ones who support universal preschool for all of California’s youngsters. Their vision is right in line with the California Education Master Plan that clearly outlines the state’s plans to provide an “education system in which all sectors, from pre-kindergarten through postsecondary education, are aligned and coordinated into one integrated system.” It calls for guaranteed access to quality childcare for all 3-and 4-year-olds. In April 2003, the Assembly Education Committee unanimously approved a bill creating universal preschool by 2014 and making kindergarten mandatory.

(You can access the CA ED Master Plan at: http://tinyurl.com/53opo.)

Around the state, some state preschool programs are already operating. Three- and four-year-olds in Alameda County and Santa Clara County participate in the non-profit Kidango preschool programs (www.kidango.org) subsidized by The California Department of Education through a $1.1 million grant. The First Five Commission in San Mateo County has commissioned a study to determine feasibility of universal preschool. Merced County offers universal preschool in most of its school districts funded by a $560,000 annual grant from the state education department. The city of San Jose has a plan to use federal, state, and city funds to make universal preschool accessible to all city residents. In Silicon Valley, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation is providing help to those who advocate for and develop universal preschool. Los Angeles County’s First Five Commission voted to spend $100 million to help “upgrade” existing subsidized half-day preschools to full-time facilities. The programs have waiting lists, and are available on an income-based need basis. In time, First Five plans to make universal preschool available to middle-income families as well.
The announcement from O’Connell that universal preschool is a priority for 2005, came on the heels of a report published by the Economic Policy Institute titled, “Exceptional Returns: Economic, Fiscal, and Social Benefits of Investment in Early Childhood Development” by Robert G. Lynch. In it, the author makes a fiscal case for U.S. government funded preschool programs. The book’s introduction says, “...this study illustrates the potential benefit to the solvency of the U.S. Social Security system from ECD investment.” That’s right, the solution to the government’s Social Security woes is to send kids to preschool. Government funded preschool programs will be an exercise in social engineering to make sure we have human resources -- a guaranteed work force -- that will assure future generations get their Social Security checks! (You can get more information about the book as well as download it for FREE in pdf format at:

http://www.epinet.org/content.cfm/books_exceptional_returns.)

Lynch states that children of poverty (and we are talking about kids in abject poverty whose socio-economic circumstances are so dire, they are identified as “at risk”) benefit from early childhood development programs. He reports that 20% of children in the U.S. are living in these circumstances and would profit from government funded early childhood development programs. Taxpayers would shoulder the burden of 20% of the childhood population whose parents cannot properly care for them. This report makes a financial case that supporting universal preschool will allow these children to be properly managed through the school system, so that they will grow up to become human resources that contribute to (and thus save) Social Security! Apparently it’s a short leap in the government’s mind to see that if these programs help critically poor children, they will also “help” the other 80% of the population that isn’t poor contribute to the restoration of Social Security -- hence, universal preschool. And you can bet that mandatory preschool won’t be far behind. Preschoolers, as potential taxpayers, must accept their fare share of responsibility for the fiscal mismanagement of the Social Security system. Government funded retirement begins with preschoolers.

Expect to see more and more advertisements touting the benefits of preschooling funded by corporations, teacher’s unions, misguided celebrities, government programs and anyone who stands to benefit economically. Expect to see more and more legislation introduced to make preschool universal and eventually mandatory (just as legislation is introduced annually in California to make Kindergarten mandatory).

Other States
And it’s not just happening in California. State-mandated Kindergarten and universal preschool in other states are underway. A recent Rutgers University survey found that 87 percent of parents think states should provide funding so all kids can go to preschool. With more parents working outside of the home and in need of childcare, perhaps that’s not a big surprise. Eighty percent of Georgia’s four-year-olds attend state preschools funded by the lottery. Florida voters mandated free universal preschool for all four-year-olds beginning in September, 2005. You can track their progress at http://www.upkflorida.org/. New York has outlined a plan to provide free preschool that waits for county funding. Other states already have pre-kindergarten programs for poor and “at risk” children, many modeled on Head Start. As more and more of these programs are seeded, they will rely on federal funding for fertilization. This is a topic for national debate, as Al Gore demonstrated when he endorsed universal preschool in his bid for the presidency in 2000. 

History of Preschool 
Why universal preschool? To understand what is happening it helps to review the history of preschool. Prior to the 1970’s most parents taught their young children at home, preparing them fully for kindergarten and first grade. However, in 1965 President Lyndon Johnson launched The War On Poverty that included something called “Head Start.” Head Start provided a place (often a school district classroom) where disadvantaged children ages 2-5 could go to get a nutritious meal, in a safe and secure environment, with caring adults who provided enrichment opportunities such as story time, art activities, and games. These were things most children from “normal” homes received every day from their moms and dads. Head Start was reported to be effective at helping these children developmentally and in aiding their successful transition to a school environment. 

The media prematurely touted the success of this government program, and somehow the claims were exaggerated to imply that ALL children who had “formal training” in their preschool years would do BETTER academically throughout their school careers. Head Start coincided with the advent of two-income families and the need for childcare. Preschool programs became a popular idea -- giving EVERY child some of the “advantages” most (who were not poor) would have received at home anyway. That, coupled with the demand for daycare, accounts for the beginning of the social acceptance of preschool today.

It is interesting to note, that forty years after the beginning of Head Start, reports indicate it has not delivered the benefits supporters would like you to think it has to the 17 million children who have participated. In fact, Karen Holgate, Director of Legislative Affairs for the California Family Council, sets the record straight in a brilliant expose titled Master Plan for Education – Universal Preschool: Does It really help children? Is it worth the cost? Written in August 2004 (and available to read online at www.californiafamily.org), Holgate provides compelling evidence that Head Start is a forty-four billion dollar boondoggle. She says, “…a 1985 Department of Health and Human Services report said that while Head Start can produce an ‘immediate positive impact on cognitive measures, social behavior and child health, among other things,’ any positive impact quickly diminishes once children enter school. In fact, the study said, ‘In the long run, cognitive and socio-emotional test scores of former Head Start students do not remain superior to those of disadvantaged children who did not attend Head Start… By the end of the second year there are no educationally meaningful differences on any of the measures … [and for] social behavior, former Head Start enrollees … drop to the level of comparison children by the end of the third year.’” Regardless, Head Start is used as an exemplary model for many government preschool programs.

If you’re not susceptible to the Head Start buzz, there is other persuasive rhetoric used to promote universal preschool. Rob Reiner and the California Teacher’s Association introduced an initiative that was intended for the ballot in November of 2004. Although it was dropped (but will probably be resurrected), it was called the Improving Classroom Education Act (ICEA) and proclaimed an oft-repeated refrain by those who support universal preschool, “Studies show that children who go to preschool do better in reading and math and are more likely to graduate from high school and college. That is why we should give all children access to voluntary universal preschool to help them succeed.” 

Once again, Karen Holgate counters this highly subjective declaration. She writes, “While some studies do support the above statement, other objective analyses of those studies dispute the conclusions. For instance, the ICEA’s declaration (and those of other proponents of universal preschool) points to the federally funded Head Start program and two other preschool intervention models.”

We have already seen that despite an investment of $44 billion taxpayer dollars, Head Start makes no meaningful educational difference. The other two preschool programs frequently referred to as providing proof of the success of preschool are The Perry Preschool Project and the Abecedarian Project. According to Holgate, while researchers of the Perry Preschool Project claimed that participants “had lower incidences of adult crime, higher income, a greater commitment to marriage, and were less dependent on welfare,” critics disputed the claims citing “flawed methodologies were used and, therefore, wrong conclusions assumed from both of the highly specialized programs.” 

She explains that only low-income, at-risk children were selected to participate in the studies. In the case of the Perry Project (http://www.highscope.org/Research/PerryProject/perrymain.htm), only 3 and 4 year old African-American children who were determined to be in danger of ‘retarded intellectual functioning and eventual school failure,’ were enrolled and Holgate rightly points out that’s “hardly a representative model of how the average child, or even the average at-risk child, would do.” Indeed, average, normal, mainstream, advantaged kids of diverse ethnicities haven’t been the subjects of preschool studies. There is no evidence to know if these programs would be beneficial to them, and according to some researchers, it would be detrimental.

The Perry and Abecedarian programs also involved rigorous intervention in the home-lives of the program participants. In the Perry Preschool Program, one parent was required to be at home during the day -- a factor that seemed to be discounted in terms of the impact it might have had on the growth and development of the kids documented in the study. It was assumed that attending preschool was the reason for their success.

Interestingly, the Carolina Abecedarian Project (http://www.fpg.unc.edu/~abc/index.cfm) required children of low-income families to be placed in full-time day care from infancy to age 5. The highly- trained daycare staff included credentialed teachers and assistants trained in child development. Individualized programs were designed for the children that included games and activities to develop language, social, emotional, and thinking skills. Author, Joanne Jacobs, wrote about the project in an article titled Universal Preschool for the San Francisco Chronicle. She said, “As young adults, Abcedarian grads showed significant gains in education and employment compared with children from similar backgrounds. They did not catch up with middle-class children. The Abecedarian model costs about $13,000 per child, double the cost of a year of Head Start and four times more than the average state-run preschool…Universal preschool will suck up money that could be used to provide quality child care and preschool for the neediest kids. That’s assuming there is any money in California’s budget.” Once again, there are no comparative studies to recommend universal preschool as an advantageous objective for all children. However, the policy implication of the Abcedarian Project is that poverty is increasing among America’s Children and more and more of them will require out of home care (emphasis mine).

Again, these three studies that are referred to over and over again in universal preschool hype, have been conducted on low-income, at-risk kids. How do those results translate to mainstream children? There isn’t any proof that they do, no matter how often Rob Reiner or government pundits beat the “studies show” drum. In fact, there are a number of revered child-development experts who strongly oppose the institutionalization of young children and warn of the potential damage psychologically, emotionally, socially and physically to them if separated from their parents and homes. In Mary Eberstadt’s Home Alone America: The Hidden Toll of Day Care, Behavioral Drugs and Other Parent Substitutes the author makes a case for why parental absence in the lives of children has created a whole new crop of social ills. David Elkind sounds the alarm in his book, Miseducation: Preschoolers At Risk. Elkind insists that, “What’s happening in the United States today is truly astonishing. In a society which prides itself for facts over hearsay, openness to research etc., research and opinion on how children learn and how best to teach them is being ignored.” Further, Elkind claims that, “No authority in the field of child psychology, pediatrics, or child psychiatry advocates formal education, in any domain, of infants and young children. In fact, the weight of solid professional opinion opposes it and advocates... a rich and stimulating environment that is... warm, loving, and supportive of a child’s own learning priorities and pacing. It is within this... environment that infants and young children acquire a solid sense of security, positive self-esteem, and long-term enthusiasm for learning.” Elkind, a professor of child studies at Tufts University, also raises the ugly and frequently unacknowledged issues of status and competition as driving factors in the proclivity of parents to enroll their children in “prestigious” preschool programs. It’s not about what’s best for the children; it’s about what makes mom and dad look and feel good. With more than half of the population of infants and young children enrolled in extended preschool programs, Eberstadt and Elkind leave little hope for a bright future for institutionalized little kids.

Another mantra that is used to convince parents that preschool will improve their children goes something like this, “Most brain development occurs in the early years. We can make more of a difference in children’s lives with preschool programs.” It makes a frightening difference according to various essayists in the book, Who Will Rock the Cradle? As an example, it points to the 1970 White House Conference on Children that explained: “Daycare is a powerful institution. A daycare program that administers to a child from six months to six years of age has over 8,000 hours to teach him values, fears, beliefs, and behaviors.” As for brain development, yes it’s true the early years are when the most significant brain development occurs. However, in Your Child’s Growing Mind: Brain Development and Learning From Birth to Adolescence, renowned educational psychologist and authority on brain development in children, Jane Healy, Ph.D., says to parents, “Give your child the gift of patience for the broad-based mental experiences that will underlie joyous learning throughout life…Childhood is a process, not a product, and so is learning. In a society that often respects products more than the processes of creation and thought, it is easy to fall into the trap of anxiety over measuring achievement in isolated skills. Have faith – in childhood and yourself. Children’s brains generally seek what they need, and nature has given you the instincts to help them get it.”

This message needs to be heard!
At the very least, we must open this topic for debate BEFORE legislation is passed to further implement and mandate universal preschool. Future generations are at risk! One of the first questions to ask of government preschool proponents is, “ Who will decide the standards for the programs offered at government universal preschools? Will they serve the child’s best interests or will they replicate what we have come to expect from public schools? “ We need answers and LOUD, OPEN debate or we are doomed to be dismissed by people like Betty Bassoff with San Mateo County’s First Five Commission. When interviewed by Eve Pearlman for an article titled “Free Preschool For All In Los Angeles?” that was published in the November-December 2002 issue of the Children’s Advocate, she commented that, “The naysayers are always resistant to change…But in 20 years we won’t even be able to imagine we never had it.”

No one is denying that we need programs to help critically poor kids. Parents need options for their young children, like the co-op and private preschool programs that are available, along with home preschool and even no preschool (just nurturing parents). But government funded, universal and/or mandatory preschool must be resisted -- especially when all signs point to an exercise in social engineering and, in my view, what seems like a sinister plot to restore the Social Security coffers! Can the government that suggests such a thing possibly have your young child’s best educational interests in mind? More than ever, parents need to be informed in order to maintain their right to determine the educational path of their own children without government mandates or interference. 

My Own Actions
I keep thinking I can’t be the only one who objects to mandatory and universal preschool -- but I’ve seen NO DISSENTING POSITION REPRESENTED AT ALL in the most persuasive mediums of television and radio. It is a personal goal of mine to provide a viable forum for offering a dissenting opinion on the topic of government funded and/or mandatory “Universal Preschool.” The idea that the state should dictate and/or provide care and some kind of “schooling” for ALL young children ages 2-5 is one that I oppose. I thought that I’d see a parental rights organization rise to combat such a plan -- but, to my amazement and consternation, it hasn’t happened.
As I stated at the beginning of this article, my new website is www.UniversalPreschool.com and I have developed an e-group called Universal Preschool at Yahoo groups. These are for the purposes of:

1. Combating the implementation of government funded and/or mandatory Universal Preschool.

2. Empowering parents with information and resources to help them feel confident and capable of teaching their little ones at home and/or with thoughtful use of privately funded preschool programs, co-ops, and homeschools.

3. Informing educators, government policy makers, and the media of our opposition to government funded and/or mandatory preschool programs.

If you are a concerned parent, educator, policy maker, or concerned citizen who opposes the implementation of government funded and/or mandatory Universal Preschool and want to do something about it – join us. Let us know how you can help with this cause.

Diane Keith
Copyright 2005, All Rights Reserved